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Workhouse V2.0

So much for regular blogging, eh? Things have been afoot, and I am being creative musically and otherwise, but it’s been such an odd year that I haven’t really been good at being regular about blogging. Still, I hope this will change, and in the spirit of that, here is something I created. It’s been a little while since I wrote any short stories, so it’s a little rusty, but it seems in keeping with the world at the moment, or at least my less favourable feelings about the world at the moment, so I present:

Workhouse V2.0 

The 6am Klaxon jolted Tav into a bleary, muddled wakefulness, yanking her from a dream in which she had been enjoying mashed potato and gravy. She had never eaten mashed potato and gravy, but from the books she had read – when there had been books – she imagined it to be salty, buttery, warm. Comforting. It had always struck her, how authors had been obsessed with describing food. Midnight feasts fuelled by lashings of ginger beer. Hot, steaming slices of juicy roast meat served with flavourful vegetables and spicy punch. Creamy hot chocolate. It amazed her that there could ever have been a time when chocolate had ever been available to anyone other than the Overseers.

Another day, another dollar. Wasn’t that the saying? Only there were no dollars here. You worked for Nutritabs (TM) and water, a cot to sleep in and your continued existence.

It hadn’t always been like this. People spoke in whispers of a time in the late 2030’s when work was exchanged for money, and people had some measure of freedom. Advanced automation techniques had forever changed the face of capitalism – now only the Overseers could go Outside. They owned the factories and the machines, which at first had been a wonderful, labour-saving development. However, when the crisis hit, in 2041, there were no jobs for ordinary people any more. Debt had spiralled out of control, and without employment millions were soon destitute.

It was felt that the people would only experience satisfaction if they worked. Work was the tool to greater motivation, self esteem and worth. So, the WorkFarm was born. Of course all of the necessary tasks to keep society running were already taken care of by the AIs but it was simple enough to find mundane tasks that the Workers could do that, while not actually productive, would keep their hands busy and their minds numb.

Of course, some found it harder than others. The former doctors, lawyers, nurses, firemen and women, teachers – many of them chose to SelfPurge before being rounded up into the WorkFarm. And some were not deemed suitable for the program. It would have been a cruelty to expect the infirm and disabled to cope. The deviants would not have been safe to be in the confines of the Farm – how, after all, could you protect someone from sexual attack from members of their own sex? The resultant drop in population size was seen by many as a blessing. Now there would be more food, more medicine and more resources to go around.

The canteen was silent as Tav and the others shuffled in in a line. Each was given a Nutritab (TM) and a cup of water, each sat on a sterile metal bench to consume it. The benches were not designed for comfort – you would not sit there for long. Time wasted is time lost forever, as the slogans on the wall said. Breakfast generally took less than 5 minutes from joining the queue to dropping one’s cup in the disposal chute. If a Worker was not on the Floor by 6:15am ready to start work, they risked solitary confinement, loss of rations or the Sting.

Tav’s work, like that of the other women, involved twisting bolts onto screws. Minute after minute, hour after hour, she plucked a bolt from one box, and a screw from the other, and twisted them together. Oftentimes the screws or the bolts were so worn that they were too stiff to work together, or the threads were gone. But a non-assembled screw and bolt would earn the Sting. More than one would elicit removal of rations. Tav’s hands were scarred from forcing bolts unto screws until her fingers bled.

The conjoined bolt/screw arrangements were fed onto a belt, and transported to the Men’s section. The men’s job was simple enough. To unscrew the bolts from the screws and load them into boxes – one full of screws and one full of bolts. It was the perfect system, a closed cycle, where resources were neither wasted nor thrown away.

Two tables away from Tav, there was a sudden commotion as an older woman quietly, and without any fuss, slid to the floor. Tav did not know her name – friendships and interactions were actively discouraged – but she recalled this same woman had been coughing throughout the night at the far end of the dormitory from Tav’s own narrow cot. The woman slumped, pale and lifeless, her threaded screw on the floor an inch from her still fingers. Two Overseers briskly appeared, picking her up as though she were a sack of grain, and carried her away. She would not be seen again.

The other Workers simply closed the gap, like water rushing into a hole, and continued their work silently.

The lunchtime Klaxon sounded at 1pm, signalling another Nutritab and, this time, a reading from the Book. There were no pages in this Book, no ink. It was held on a tablet by Head Overseer, and pronounced from. Themes included the benevolence of the government, the folly of laziness, the danger of grandiose thinking, the perils of academia and the fruitlessness of religion. The only thing good about the 30 minute midday break, thought Tav, as she shifted uncomfortably on the edge of the ridged bench, was that one could sit down, even if it was more of a perch than a sit.

The afternoon followed the same pattern as the morning. Pick up a bolt. Pick up a screw. Thread them together. Place on the belt. Tav winced on reopening a cut on her palm while working on a particularly tight screw, but was careful not to lose pace or let an Overseer see she was bleeding. She wiped her hand down her overalls, and continued on.

Evening Klaxon sounded at 8pm, and the Workers downed tools and filed silently back into the canteen for the last Nutritab (TM) of the day. This time, one wall of the canteen was completely filled with a black screen. There were Purges daily – political criminals mostly, Deviants, academics and liberals. These were shown in the WorkFarms to instil gratitude in the Workers that they were spared from living in the world with these monsters. When the last Purgee had finished kicking and squirming, there was another short reading from the Book, and the Workers filed back to their cots. Tav stripped out of her overalls and dropped them into the chute at the bottom of the dormitory, took a clean one from the stacks, shrugged it on and climbed wearily into her cot.

The 6am Klaxon jolted Tav into a bleary, muddled wakefulness, yanking her from a dream in which she had been enjoying roast beef and yorkshire pudding.

And there it is. My first go at writing something that isn’t a song lyric in a long time. I’m hoping that it will help, as I have been churning out melodies and hooks like a machine but the lyrics have been eluding me. So this is my prose offensive!

See you next blog post!

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined”

That is the text on a kitsch little wooden sign that dangles from my work PC monitor. Presumably I bought it to remind myself that there is more to life than the nine to five (or in my case, 8:30 – 4:30) but it did start me thinking about balance and how bad I am at it.

Facebook helpfully reminded me recently that my fans hadn’t heard from me in eight days. It likes to do that. It likes to point out my inadequacies just in case I had forgotten to lie awake until 3am worrying about them. My own self-loathing couldn’t possibly be sufficient, now the internet has to pitch in as well.

Here is the unglamorous truth about being an unsigned, unheard of musician. You can only do music full time with money. Without money you need a job. But a job will sap every last ounce of energy out of you and make it very VERY hard to keep making music. And on it’s own, that’s already a challenge. Now add in self-promotion. Keeping fans up to date and building a following is another full time job. It’s ok if you have money, you can hire someone to do this bit for you. But without the money, you need a job. Circles and circles.

What happened to my optimistic plans of regular blogs, mailing everyone like a boss, free downloads, new content every week and all the things that I need to actually be doing?

In short, life. And life does this to everyone. In my case, my partner had surgery, and my new permanent daylighting project (aka my job which puts food on the table and keeps a roof over me and my keyboard) went stratospheric with intensity and busy-ness. I PA for two directors and do financial admin support, so my day is pretty busy. In the midst of all this, I simply ran out of spoons for anything else. I spent Mon-Thur, May-July coming home, eating dinner, going to bed, rinse and repeat. By the time I got to my dedicated Music day (Fridays) I was so worn out I was just sleeping and reading and trying to regroup so that my mental health did not become a casualty to the impending burnout.

So yes, it’s true. My fans on facebook have not heard from me in eight days. I haven’t blogged since April. I opened an instagram account which has remained unused. My mailing list is still languishing unused. I’m a terrible TERRIBLE promoter.

OK, well, I must have made some music right? Well, yes. I have written two things since FAWM in February. You can find those here.

Things are slowly starting to improve. My partner can now walk again, and pull weight around the house so I am not also doing all the cooking and cleaning. My workload is starting to settle down (either that or I’m getting used to it). I even spoke to PRS yesterday to sort out my tunecodes so I can claim on my live gigs from the start of the year (yes, that’s how behind I am).

I don’t really know why I’m writing this, other than I really want people to understand that when someone goes quiet for a long period of time, it’s not personal. That I still really appreciate the support of my friends and fans and that I haven’t fallen off the earth, I just got buried for a while and had to dig myself out. That this arrangement of having to daylight to pay the bills is not ideal but is one that so many musicians face because people have started to believe that music should be free, or that people should create art out of love and not want financial recompense. That I really, passionately believe that music has value and should be accorded respect, because no matter what you think of it, someone has poured their heart and soul into it, very probably after a long day of financial reporting, filing, street sweeping, serving in a restaurant, scanning items in a supermarket or cleaning toilets.

This isn’t the life I imagined. I have a way to go to get there. Thanks for your patience while I work on it.

 

 

 

Here, live and unedited, in all it’s glory, warts and all, is the full video of my set at the Duchess on Friday 22nd April. I was there in support of Vinnie Whitehead, who was recording his live acoustic album. Also playing, BingersUK, with loopy, loopy madness. It was an exciting night!

The setlist looks like this:

1. Rubbish Fairy Tale
2. Burn
3. Windmills
4. Numb (a cover of the song originally by Linkin Park)
5. Silence of the Stars
6. Scarlet Casanova
7. Learning to Fly

It’s unedited to keep the feel of the live gig, so there are some sound issues – some exciting whalesong feedback halfway through Silence of the Stars that knocked out the monitors for Scarlet Casanova, but live sound is unpredictable, so it’s all good, I still had a great night! Anyway here is the video… Enjoy!

 

casee duchess

On Sunday evening I did one of my favourite things. I went to a little pub on the outskirts of York, and I played music to a small but very appreciative audience. They were the best kind of audience – the active listening variety – rarely found in most pubs these days, but this was no ordinary event – this was Vale Radio’s FAB Folk and Blues Club.

FAB gig1

The event is young, it started only a couple of months ago, as a result of the radio studio for Vale Radio being too small to accommodate a full band. At best, on a Monday night, the FAB Folk and Blues show might be able to fit a trio into the studio, but that was all. So the idea was born to have a night in a local pub, in the function room, where larger bands could be recorded live for the show.

It was to one such night I found myself invited, and it was marvellous. The pub in question, the Cottage Inn, has a large and acoustically beautiful function room that they kindly allow Vale Radio to have for no charge on a Sunday night. The audience, briefed on what to expect, are quiet, supportive and attentive. In short, it’s the ideal gig environment for folk/blues/country/singer-songwriter artists. In addition to the main attraction (this time it was Itchy Fingers, a 5 piece from Lincolnshire) a variety of local artists are invited to play acoustic short sets of 3-4 songs a piece. There’s also generally a raffle for the prize of a CD or two donated by the artists.

Here’s the thing. The audience was painfully, pitifully small. Will the night survive? This was the third time the event had run (it runs every other week) and yes, it might get bigger, but to survive, it needs to get bigger at a drastically increased pace. The room is free because the pub uses takings on the bar, but if there are fewer punters, there are less takings.

I have found myself pondering this more and more of late. Local live music is such a brilliant thing, so why does it struggle? I have some theories:

Firstly – and I am guilty of this too – musicians rarely go out to watch other musicians perform. We’ll watch people on at the same gig as us (although in some cases even that doesn’t happen, I have seen bands arrive in time for their slot, play and then leave) but rarely do we go out for an evening for someone else’s gig. It’s the old adage about how a carpenter never has shelves. It’s something I’m trying hard to remedy (I plan to be at the Flora Greysteel album launch later this month for example), but it needs to be part of every musician’s schedule. We learn so much from watching others perform. We see what works, what doesn’t work, what makes us respond as members of the audience. So it’s a win-win; supporting local events and musicians while also helping us to develop our own skills. If you are a musician who doesn’t go out to watch others perform, I highly urge you to fix this.

Secondly, people want to hear stuff they know. Pubs will pay an absolute premium for a band to come and do two hours of covers. Show me a pub that’ll pay anyone for two hours of original material and I’ll dig out my collection of rocking-horse poop for you. People coming out for a drink on a Friday or Saturday night tend to have their interests limited to: drinking, talking, trying to pull, singing along with the jukebox/band, more drinking. If this seems jaded, well, I’ve seen it night after night in pubs around York. Yes, there are audiences for good quality live acts doing originals, but there are bigger (and thus more lucrative) audiences for human jukeboxes.

Lastly, for many people, even people who are passionate about live music, sometimes the allure of a night in with Netflix, a duvet, and those famous brothers Ben and Jerry, is just too much to resist. Yes, you could go to see a live act perform, but it’s raining, you have your slippers on and look, the cat has gone to sleep on your knees, so you couldn’t possibly go anywhere just now.

Here’s the thing. Use it or lose it. Live music is good for the soul. It gives you something to talk about (that anecdote about the folk singer who treated us all to a 25 verse epic about a violinist and his sweetheart,and the subsequent death, calamity, fairy infestation, jealous violence, romance etc that went on until the venue owners flashed the lights and cut the power is still going strong in our household…). You may discover an artist whose work really speaks (sings) to you. Your support in turning up to that gig may be the spur that causes the artist to write their next album, or book their next gig. Because let’s face it, we write and perform for you.

This is our life blood. Help us keep live music alive.

Thanks for reading, I’d love your thoughts on this!

We Could Be Heroes

Ordinarily, I’d have posted yesterday, this being the New Year and the time of Remembering to Post Weekly On a Monday (TM) but I made a conscious decision not to. I was feeling a little too dumbstruck at the news that David Bowie has left the planet.

Clearly if you ask me what I remember about Bowie, I’ll have nothing in the realm of personal anecdotes. I did not know the man. Like so many of us, I only know the face he presented to us through his musical and theatrical creativity. I remember hearing China Girl on the radio when I was 6 or 7 perhaps? I remember being spellbound, seeing David playing Jareth in Labyrinth (and thinking if that’s what the Goblin King looked like, he wasn’t so bad after all!) He’s just always been there, in the backdrop of my life, and like others have said, I always just assumed he was immortal.

Yesterday was a stark reminder that he wasn’t, that none of us are.

But yesterday was also a reminder of another thing. In all the sadness around his passing, in the loss his family are experiencing, in the gut-wrenching grief of his loss, we have been reminded of the potential within us all. The news is full of how he wrote the last album as a parting gift for his fans. Of how, faced with the end, he continued to create, to express and to communicate through music, so that we’d have one last album, the swan song of an extraordinary life.

If he can do it, any of us can. David was human, like the rest of us. He struggled, and failed, and lost, probably thousands more times than he won, we just never saw it. He kept on persevering, that weird little London kid, embracing his own oddity and daring the rest of us to say anything about it. And in the end, he emerged a hero.

So that is the lesson I’m taking from this. The bright spark in the world’s loss. If he could do it, so can I. So can you. And you. And you. We can all find our passion and make it shine. We can all stand up, embracing ourselves, refusing to conform and be loved for who we are.

We can be heroes.

Bowie

 

 

It’s a little late, being already the 4th January, but to try to make up for a rather lackluster year in blogging, I thought I’d take this opportunity to whiffle on about what I managed to do in 2015 that meant I was too busy/lazy to blog!

On a personal front, it was a pretty quiet year. I mooched from one short term dayjob role to another, ending up somewhere where hopefully I shall now be staying, I achieved my coaching level 1 in Aikido, I celebrated my 5 year wedding anniversary, built a lot of Lego,  watched a lot of Netflix and generally did Stuff. Oh, and I took up archery. That one definitely merits a mention. My inner Hawkeye/Katniss/Legolas* (delete as applicable) is definitely having a whale of a time going “pew! pew!”. I recommend it. Especially if you’d like one arm to become noticeably bigger than the other in a short space of time… Erm…

OK. Well. moving on.

Musically it was a crazy, busy year.

In February, I did my usual romp through 14 new songs that we call FAWM. I didn’t blog about it much at the time, mostly because I was busy doing it. It went well, I dinged 14 without too much trauma, and ended up with several songs I could basically gig with immediately. I made a vague promise to myself to put out another album before the end of the year, and to include some of the songs written as part of FAWM, then shoved it on a back burner and forgot about it.

Spring and early summer saw a lot of gigging, including a fabulous slot supporting Everlate at their album launch at the Basement, City Screen (review here). Really enjoyed that – I think this has been the year I’ve finally started to feel like I have a handle on playing live, rather than just feeling like a random imposter who gets away with it because I smile a lot, or something…

In July I started 50/90, and made it to 5 songs, (so a tenth of the way, which isn’t to be sniffed at!) and suddenly realised I actually had a whole album ready to go. By the end of August, I had decided I was going to crowdfund the album, and in the space of an afternoon, I had set up the crowdfunding page on Kickstarter.

When I launched it, the day before going to Alnwick for a long weekend, I thought “well, I have a month to get to £800, there’s pretty good odds on that”. But, by the time I had returned from Alnwick, 5 days after launch, the campaign target had been reached, and I was looking at stretch goals. It was incredible. It totally made my birthday too, which was not long after!

And so, Here At A Distance came to life. I asked Ros Dando, a local artist, to do the artwork, and amazingly, she said yes, and did a beautiful, beautiful album cover. I mixed and mastered everything, and nearly gave myself a nervous breakdown trying to get it all to the pressing house in plenty of time. Launch night was 30th October, and we booked out the Bay Horse in York, and got Flora Greysteel, Bleeding Hearts and Artists, and Helen Robertson to come and play.

album cover

It’s done well since release. FATEA Magazine reviewed it, as did Soundsphere and Planet London.  It’s certainly my biggest achievement in 2015, and I’m immensely pleased that I got it out there. I couldn’t have done it without my supporters on Kickstarter though, and for me one of the biggest things about achieving it was the reminder that people DO believe in me, and they DO support what I do, and even when it feels like I’m throwing music into the void, someone, somewhere has noticed. That’s been a massive thing for me to bring into 2016.

So what’s next for 2016?

At the moment, I’m undecided. Obviously I’ll do FAWM, although I’d like to get back into the more electronica side of things. I have a gig in April at the Duchess, York, which I’m really excited about, I’m playing at Coventry Pride in June, and I’m also going to be on the Fox’s Den Show on the 29th January, playing live and talking about the album. I’m at one of those quiet points just now, where I’m waiting to see where the tide pulls me..

Meanwhile, if you aren’t bored of Christmas songs, I finished up the year by recording a silly cover of Fairytale of New York, with Jon from The Bleeding Hearts and Artists. 

And if you feel like you want to hear my dulcet tones talking nonsense about music and other things, check out these:

Appearance on FAB Folk and Blues with Tony Haynes on Vale Radio

Interview on The Cultural Review with Tom Mallow

Happy New Year!

 

Good afternoon strangers..

Yes, I know it’s been months since I last posted. Yes, I know I’m a terrible blogger, and no, I won’t be offended if y’all buggered off and found a younger, prettier, more regular blog than mine…

For those of you still left, this is me returning to Monday blogging. My current time management situation allows for it, which is awesome 🙂

On to today’s point of interest. I’ve been hanging out on a couple of Facebook groups where people discuss their releases, and one of the questions which seems to pop up pretty regularly is how to organise distribution of a release so that it ends up on iTunes, Spotify, and other cool places like that.

Here’s my guide to distribution. I’m going to assume that the album is written, recorded, mixed and mastered, and essentially ready to go.

The first step is to acquire an ISRC. Many mainstream distributors will not process your release without one, and although for some you can bypass the process entirely, it’s recommended to bite the bullet and get it done, because at some point, it will allow your track to be identified, and may result in some royalties heading your way.

The easiest way to get an ISRC code if you are in the UK is to contact PPL and register with them.  You’ll be given a unique 5 character/digit code which always starts off your ISRC code, and from this you can generate all the ISRCs you’ll ever need for the remainder of your career. If you aren’t in the UK, your local music licencing body can assist you in this process.

Next up, decide on a distributor. I have personal experience with three, Emubands, CD Baby and Ditto. I ended up pulling my release from Ditto after technical problems and release delays but your mileage may vary – some people have had good experiences with them. My experiences with CD Baby and Emubands have been nothing short of excellent.

 DISTRIBUTOR  COST

 

 FEES  ONCE OFF/YEARLY?  Other Information
 Emubands £24.95 Single
£34.95 EP
£49.95 Album
 0%  Once off  Digital only
 CD Baby $9.95 Single
$49 Album
Option to go Pro for additional features
 0%  Once off  Digital and physical
 AWAL £0 unlimited  15% of sales  n/a  Digital only
 Distrokid $19.99 unlimited  0%  Yearly  Digital only
 Ditto £6 single
£20 Album
£49 unlimited
extra cost for add-ons
 0%  Yearly  Digital and physical
 Tunecore $9.99 single
$29.99 album (first year)
£49.99 album (following years)
 0%  yearly  Digital only

It’s also worth considering whether there are any particular relationships you’d like to exploit. For example, CD Baby work in partnership with Rumblefish, meaning that you can opt in for YouTube monetization if anyone wants to use a track of yours in their wedding video.

My advice is to work out what you want to achieve with your release, do your reading, and choose a distributor based on the one which most suits your needs. Contact your chosen distributor, pay your monies, upload your tracks and artwork, and let them do the rest 🙂 Always allow plenty of time between submitting your release and the release date, and you should be golden. Most importantly, enjoy it!